BYU research looks at Alzheimer’s and the brain’s ability to break down glucose

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A team of BYU researchers found new insight into how metabolism impacts the likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. It’s a growing health concern, with many people searching for a solution. Researchers at BYU found new insight into the disease.

Associate professor of cell biology and physiology, Benjamin Bikman, and graduate student Erin Saito researched how the brain is impacted by its ability to break down glucose. 

The study found that over time the brain can become resistant to insulin, making it harder for the brain to break down glucose and fuel itself.

“Because of this, this brain starvation, your brain kind of degenerates and that leads to cognitive decline,” Saito said.

Through the observation of brain tissues from deceased Alzheimer’s patients, they found that the genes used to break down glucose were compromised in those diagnosed with the disease. 

“In our study, we kind of investigated this on molecular mechanisms of this to see the kind of phenomena observable at the level of gene expression,” Saito said.

The impact of this research means that doctors can potentially detect the disease in people in their twenties and help to prevent it.

“It in fact helps to detect the problem much sooner and it helps us treat it a little better,” Bikman said.

Bikman said the best two ways to fill the gap of the glucose breakdown is by boosting the brain’s second energy source, ketones, or by maintaining insulin levels.

“Nowadays, we live in a state of chronically elevated insulin and ironically, or paradoxically, too much insulin can cause insulin resistance,” Bikman said.

Insulin levels can be managed by limiting added sugars and starches in the diet. One interesting finding that stood out to Bikman was the benefits found from regular fasting to increase ketone levels.

“I think it’s quite interesting that this is a part of our culture here at BYU that we have long embraced,” Bikman said.

It seems that there are potential hidden health benefits to religious fasting for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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